NFL quarterback did not have reserved seat at Trump rally

A photo shared online appears to show a seat reserved for NFL star Tua Tagovailoa at former US president Donald Trump's July 9, 2024 campaign rally. But the picture is altered; the chair at the Republican's Doral, Florida speech was marked for his son Barron Trump -- not the Miami Dolphins quarterback.

"Front row at the Donald Trump Miami rally tonight? Tua," says a July 9, 2024 X post from Clay Travis, founder of the Fox-owned sports and political website OutKick.

<span>Screenshot from X taken July 10, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken July 10, 2024

The image -- which appears to show seats labeled for Tagovailoa and several members of the Trump family, including Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr -- rocketed across X ahead of the ex-president's Doral event. Far-right internet personality Matt Wallace, whom AFP has repeatedly fact-checked for spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation, amplified it alongside other prominent commentators.

<span>Screenshot from X taken July 10, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken July 10, 2024

Tagovailoa and Trump have met before. In 2018, when Tagovailoa's national championship-winning University of Alabama Crimson Tide visited the White House, Trump praised the quarterback and posed for a selfie.

But the picture of a seat saved for Tagovailoa at Trump's July 2024 rally is altered.

A reverse image search revealed Henry Rodgers, chief national correspondent for the Daily Caller, a conservative outlet, posted the original photo to X hours before the rally (archived here). It shows Barron Trump's name on the chair, not Tagovailoa's.

"NEW- Barron Trump and most of the Trump family will be in attendance and sitting front row at Trump's rally tonight in Miami," Rodgers wrote.

He later replied to a post sharing the doctored version of the image to say it was "fake" (archived here).

"My photo is legit," Rodgers told AFP in a July 10 email. "The other one is clearly an edited version of my pic."

"Also, as you can see from clips of the rally, that is where Barron was sitting."

Trump acknowledged his youngest son during the rally, prompting him to rise and wave to a standing ovation from the audience (archived here).

"He's a very special guy, Barron Trump. This is the first time he's ever done this," Trump said.

Other photos and videos from the rally also show Barron Trump in the front row of the crowd (archived here, here, here and here).

Travis, the OutKick founder, conceded in a follow-up post that Tagovailoa "wasn't there."

AFP contacted the Trump campaign, the Miami Dolphins and a representative for Tagovailoa for comment, but no responses were forthcoming.

AFP has debunked other misinformation about US politics here.